Injury-ravaged Leicester staged a pulsating second-half comeback to open their Heineken Cup campaign with a 26-26 home draw against Ospreys yesterday. The Tigers, already plagued by injuries, lost four more key players before kick off and found themselves 26-8 down late in the first half. The Ospreys had stormed ahead with tries from Shane Williams and Tommy Bowe - plus a faultless kicking performance from teenage fly-half Dan Biggar, who finished with 22 points.
Leicester showed their fighting to mount a dramatic comeback. Man of the match Billy Twelvetrees added to Johne Murphy's early try, before Argentinian winger Lucas Amorosino and then Jeremy Staunton earned the Tigers a share of the spoils and a four-try bonus point. Leicester have not lost at Welford Road in more than a year and the Ospreys will be kicking themselves at letting such a golden opportunity slip through their fingers.
The Tigers had raced into an early 8-0 lead as Julian White demolished the Ospreys scrum and Allen made an enterprising start as a makeshift outside-centre. Allen ran on to Staunton's long pass and carved his way through the Ospreys line to set up the Tigers' opening try, which was scored in the corner by Murphy. Leicester had the Ospreys' scrum under immense pressure, and White won consecutive penalties - the first of which Staunton fired wide from 55metres but the second he slotted from under posts.
White then looked at referee Alain Rolland in disbelief when he was penalised at the next scrum, and Biggar landed the long-range kick to keep the Ospreys in touch. White got his revenge at the next set-piece. But Staunton missed again and the Ospreys began to turn the tables - with their incisive back division punishing the patched-up Tigers. Biggar landed a second penalty and was then involved twice as the Ospreys surged into the lead with a try from Shane Williams.
The fly-half followed his own up-and-under and took a beautifully delayed inside pass from James Hook to send Williams away for the try. Biggar slotted a cool drop-goal before Bowe pounced on another mistake in the Leicester ranks, scooping up a loose ball to score unopposed under the posts. Another Biggar penalty opened the Ospreys a 26-8 lead before the Tigers fought back, with Allen again playing a key role.
The former Gloucester centre managed to squeeze a pass outside for Twelvetrees, who crashed over in the corner and then landed the conversion. Biggar's seventh consecutive place-kick extended the Ospreys' lead to 29-15. But the Tigers responded worked an excellent third try for Amorosino. From a Tigers scrum near half-way, James Grindal attacked the blind-side and Hamilton slipped the scoring pass for the Argentinian winger to tee up a dramatic finale.
Biggar eased the pressure for the Ospreys with another penalty, but Twelvetrees responded for the Tigers and then sparked the vital attack with five minutes remaining. Staunton's run took him within two metres of the line. It appeared he had wasted the chance when he failed to pop the pass to Murphy on his outside, but he drove on for the line and Twelvetrees kicked the conversion to earn a dramatic draw.
In yesterday's other match, Toulouse proved comfortable 36-17 victors over Sale. The French side had the game won by half-time as they led 24-3 thanks to a brace of tries from Vincent Clerc and an early score from Maxime Medard. Replacement Yves Donguy went over for two scores in the second half as Toulouse stretched their lead, although Sale had the last word with late tries from Robert O'Connell and Ben Cohen.
* PA Sport